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Testing Hair to Determine Nutritional Health of HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 10, 2015

What’s the best way to determine nutritional adequacy of a horse’s diet?

Many horsemen and horsewomen would assess body condition. If the horse’s ribs are adequately covered, he’s in positive energy balance and receiving adequate nutrition. If he’s thin or otherwise unthrifty, he’s in need of a nutritional boost.

Wiser horse owners dig deeper, recruiting an equine nutritionist to go over the horse’s diet and lifestyle, regardless of body condition. Modifications to the diet are implemented as workload or health changes dictate.

Does hair analysis have a place in ascertaining nutritional status?

According to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER), “Hair testing is applicable in certain instances, especially as an indicator of historical toxic exposure or for trace minerals like selenium, copper, and zinc. As far as routine nutritional evaluation, a thorough review of the diet is the logical jumping-off point.”

Most horses maintain body condition on a fairly simple diet of good-quality forage and a fortified concentrate with the addition of supplements as individual circumstances warrant.

“Well-known companies, the best in the business, employ equine nutritionists to formulate feeds for different classes of horses, always keeping in mind the specific nutritional requirements of each subset,” remarked Crandell. “It would, therefore, be unusual for horses to have nutritional deficiencies if the products were fed as recommended and paired with a good-quality forage."

Hair and blood analysis are tools that can be used to get an idea of a body's utilization of some nutrients. These tests might identify some specific issues but are most effective when combined with a complete evaluation of the diet.
"Consultation with an experienced nutritionist might not be free, but it provides horse owners with baseline information from which to fine-tune a diet,” said Crandell. “Plus, developing a relationship with a nutritionist is always sensible, as you never know when a situation may crop up that requires input from a professional.”
Do you want to know if you’re feeding your horse appropriately? Consult with a KER nutritionist today.